The Ballad of the Prairie Dog

When I'm interviewing candidates for positions in our company, one of the questions that often comes up is, "How does everyone stay in the loop?"

It's a fair question. After all, our corporate office is in Maryland, we have sales offices in Chicago, Atlanta, DC, Dallas, and I'm in Southern California. The key is that there has been a solid communication culture that has been developed and nurtured from the beginning.


Each week starts off with a staff meeting via GoToMeeting where we review every active client. As each client is named, if someone has an update, they state it then and there. If there is a question or issue with their account, we briefly discuss team responsibilities and next steps. The meeting typically lists between 60 and 90 minutes.

Additionally, there are check-in meetings with key team members. I have a 30-minute check in meeting every Thursday with my boss, and another check-in meeting with my counterpart and our Account Coordinator to stay abreast of all upcoming projects.

Got a sec?
Finally, there is Instant Messaging.  One thing that was both a blessing and curse of working in a corporate office was the issue of "Prairie Dogging." You're sitting in your cubicle, working on a project, when suddenly someone's head pops up over your cube wall (like a prairie dog) to ask a question, deliver information, or ((shudder)) just chat - the death knell to any productive day. In today's telecommuting world, the Instant Message enables virtual Prairie Dogging. You're sitting in front of your computer, working on a project, when suddenly - Bing!

The IM chat box appears on your screen with a question, a piece of information or the famous last words, "Got a sec?" 

All sarcasm and belly-aching aside, IM has made it very feasible to stay in close contact with telecommuting co-workers. Why not just email or pick up the phone? you may well ask. I can only point to the same behavior exhibited in the corporate office. Why would someone swing by someone else's cube when they could email or pick up the phone? There's a sense of immediacy that IM-ing and Prairie Dogging bring. Most IM questions require a simple yes or no answer. The other benefit of the office being on IM is that you can see at a glance if someone is available or not. Our team tries to keep their IM status current using the color icons: green = available, orange = away, red = busy, white = offline.  Plus we post notes with the icon, so my co-workers go to IM me and see that my name is orange (away) and then see the word "lunch' posted by my name.

Text messaging accomplishes much of the same immediacy, especially when several of us are on the road and need information quickly. Or, if one of us is conducting a GoToMeeting and another team member needs to alert them to something critical.

I tell interviewees they can be as "in-the-loop" as they want if they take advantage of the tools at hand. In fact, I'd say I typically am way more in the loop than I want to be!

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